The United States formally ended seven decades of military presence in Seoul, South Korea’s capital Friday with a ceremony to mark the opening of a new headquarters.

Camp Humphreys, about 45 miles south of Seoul, has opened and many of the U.S. troops have already moved there. The rest of the command will relocate there by the end of the year.

The U.S. military had been headquartered in Seoul’s central Yongsan neighborhood since American troops first arrived at the end of World War II. The Yongsan Garrison was a symbol of the U.S.-South Korea alliance but its occupation of prime real estate was also a long-running source of friction.

Located in the western port city of Pyeongtaek and close to a U.S. air field, the new 3,510-acre (1,420-hectare) command cost $11 billion to build and is the largest overseas U.S. base. South Korea has paid about 90 percent of the cost.

“This headquarters’ building, within the headquarters’ complex that surrounds it, represents the significant investment in the long-term presence of U.S. forces in Korea,” Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said during the opening ceremony. “U.S. Forces Korea will remain the living proof of the American commitment to the alliance.”

In a message read out at the ceremony by an aide, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that the headquarters is the cornerstone of the U.S.-South Korea alliance.

“In opening a new era of the U.S. forces headquarters in Pyeongtaek, I hope that the U.S.-South Korea alliance will develop beyond a ‘military alliance’ and a ‘comprehensive alliance’ and become a ‘great alliance,'” Moon said in the statement.

The relocation is part of a broad U.S. plan to realign its 28,500 troops and their bases in South Korea into two major hubs: one in Pyeongtaek and the other in the southeastern city of Daegu. U.S. officials say they want to move out of highly populated areas and improve efficiency and military readiness.

“Modern warfare is all about concentrating and deploying forces quickly, and Pyeongtaek in these terms has many advantages because it can really function as an outlet, unlike Yongsan, which was stuck in the middle of a population center,” said Yun Jiwon, a security professor at Pyeongtaek University.

The Yongsan area has always had a foreign military presence. The Chinese, when they occupied the country in the late 19th century, the Japanese from 1910 thru the end of World War II, and finally  the U.S. after the Japanese left occupied it from 1945-1949 but returned a year later when the Korean War began all based in Yongsan.

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Photo courtesy AP

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